8/8/08, like 8/2/90 and 9/11/01

was a day when history turned. On August 2, 1990, Iraq used the opportunity of American success in the Cold War to launch an invasion of a sovereign, recognized, and important country: Kuwait. On September 11, 2001, al Qaeda used the opportunity of the American-led extinction of interstate war to launch a direct territorial attack on the United States. And on August 8, 2008, Russia used the opportunity of apparent American success in Iraq to launch an invasion of a sovereign, recognized, and important country: Georgia.

In Vladimir Putin, we have Saddam Hussein with nuclear weapons.

The Long War against al Qaeda will continue after 8/8/08, just as America still led mop-up operations against communism after 8/2/90. Still, the world has changed. Russia’s invasion of Georgia opens the door to a world much more violent than aynthing we have seen in a generation. Interstate war, that nightmare of history that has been with us since the formation of strong stages, may be back as a tool of diplomacy between neighbors in important places.

There are many implications of this new time. After 8/2/80, men of goodwill naturally cheered the death of Iraqi soldiers in battle (as it weakened our enemy. After 9/11/01, we naturally were hopeful after every airstrike killed an al Qaeda operative. After 8/8, we must similarly smile everytime a Russian soldier dies, whether from a Georgian surface-to-air missile, a Chechen explosion, or a submarine accident. Obviously, we regret that this time of death has come. But the choice is Vladimir Putin’s. And the alternative is much worse.

Everything does not change overnight. For both better and worse, 8/8/08 does not have the emotional chock of 9/11/01. This allows us to finish up business in Afghanistan-Pakistan, without the smarminess that characterized our post-8/2/90 mop-up operations after 9/11/01. Occasionally we will have opportunities to do both at once, as the Iraq War both destroyed the Saddam regime that launched the 8/2/90 invasion and send feedback after 9/11.

An example of this might be separating the militant Islamists of central Asia from al Qaeda’s anti-Americanism. In southern Afghanistan and north-west Pakistan, this may come from co-opting the Taliban in the way that we co-opted Anbar’s tribes in the “Surge.” In Chechnya, this may be from working with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan’s ISI in arming mujaheddin. In China, this may mean stepping-up cooperating with China against the Turkestan Islamic Party, making Russia a more attractive target for Jihad than a Core country like the People’s Republic.

It’s wrong to say that “everything changed” on 8/8. But certainly priorities changed. Realities changed.

And the proper understanding of Vladimir Putin changed. By attempting to overthrow the peaceful global order, he is not merely a mafia captain, but rather a revolutionary chieftain. A Saddam Hussein with nukes.

I wonder how long it will be before Maria and Yekaterina meet Uday and Qusay?

34 thoughts on “8/8/08, like 8/2/90 and 9/11/01”

  1. When these states were created after the Russian Revolution, borders were drawn to lump diverse and often antagonistic populations together. This was in part to direct their animosity toward each other rather than the national political entity. The Soviet also deliberately moved populations around to change the demographics of certain regions. The Georgians had no chance of regaining Ossetia by force. What were they thinking? Did they believe the Russians would just let they march in, take over the secessionist Ossetian region, and the Russians would just leave? That is a truly bizarre notion.

    Watch for the price of a barrel of oil to zoom back up tomorrow, followed by the annexation of Ossetia by Russia. The US will not do anything about this because it can’t.

  2. Mystery,

    The first part of your comment is substantive, and I thank you for it.

    The second isn’t, and I urge you to write more seriously in the future

    The third makes 2 predictions, which are interesting. Would you care to quantify them?

  3. I think the correctness of your post depends upon events of the next few days. If Russia conquers Georgia, or forces it to select a friendly government, then it is evidence that they have become recklessly imperialistic.

    If they stop with the capture of South Ossetia, the situation is less dangerous.

    In any case, Russia is clearly an enemy of the United States, and of civilization. It now belongs in the “Axis of Evil.”

    An important factor to watch is Russia’s actions towards Ukraine – especially after Ukraine’s threat against the Russian fleet. If they go after the Ukraine, all bets are off. If they go after Turkey (an ally of Georgia), it gets even hairier, as an attack on Turkey requires a NATO response.

  4. Mark in Texas,

    An excellent link!

    Certainly it’s cooler to condemn Georgia for having “hubris,” but serious analsys of the Georgia situation is sadly shrouded by fashionable ha-ha-aren’t-the-done flippancy. Thanks a lot for the piece!

    John,

    No idea if Russia recklessly imperialistic. Certainly we may see. As of now, we can only tell that they have reintroduced large-scale conventional warfare as a method of negotiation between states. Very dangerous.

    Russia’s certainly more of a threat to us than Iran. North Korea is primarily a threat to its wealthy neighbors, who are better able to defend themselves than Georgia is.

    Good idea to focus on Ukraine.

  5. AP saying Saakashvili started this:

    “The timing suggested Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili may have been counting on surprise to fulfill his longtime pledge to wrest back control of South Ossetia — a key to his hold on power. The rebels seek to unite with North Ossetia, which is part of Russia.”

  6. John SN,

    Your comment “Now wait just a cotton picking minute here” included profanity, and has been deleted.

    AP saying Saakashvili started this:

    “The timing suggested Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili may have been counting on surprise to fulfill his longtime pledge to wrest back control of South Ossetia — a key to his hold on power. The rebels seek to unite with North Ossetia, which is part of Russia.”

    Russian clients began a campaign of terror in the run-up to 8/8. Russian clients destroyed an armored Georgian transport on 8/8. All the while, Russian troops have been illegally occupying Russia.

    Now, if you are arguing that Georgia returned an escalation with an escalation, you are obviously correct. Certainly the articles you present support this view. As do I.

    If you want to make vague and/or wild claims like Georgia started this” however, you either need to clarify what you are talking about, or find articles that actually support your contention.

  7. Dan- This is from the Mail online:

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/worldnews/article-1043185/The-Pipeline-War-Russian-bear-goes-Wests-jugular.html

    “The Pipeline War: Russian bear goes for West’s jugular”
    Last updated at 1:00 PM on 10th August 2008

    “The war in Georgia escalated dangerously last night after Russian jets reportedly bombed a vital pipeline that supplies oil to the West. After a day of heightening international tensions, Georgian leaders claimed that the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, which transports oil from the Caspian Sea to Turkey, had been attacked. But it is thought the bombs missed their target. Their claims came after Russian jets struck deep into the territory of its tiny neighbour, killing civilians and ‘completely devastating’ the strategic Black Sea port of Poti, a staging post for oil and other energy supplies.”

    This pipeline passes 1 million barrels of oil a day, which is about 1% of the world’s daily output. An explosion at the Turkish portion of the pipe has disrupted flow for the past two days. The cause of the explosion is unclear, although Turkish Kurds have claimed credit. The oil in this pipeline originates in Azerbaijan. This oil competes with oil originating in Russia. In the past, nothing more than uncertainty has been necessary to spike oil prices. It is hard to see how this incident would not panic the oil markets.

    According to Wikipedia, “…South Ossetian secessionist authorities demand independence or unification with North Ossetia under the Russian Federation…” They have been semi-autonomous since 1992. I don’t see how they can be reabsorbed by Georgia as long as Russia does not want it to be so.

  8. Mystery,

    Excellent link!

    If true, it implies that Russia’s war against the west has escalated, from merely invading a western government to attempting to artificially increase the price of raw materials by destroying those of others.

    Russia’s historical approach has been to expand in spasms of violence, and then sell of territory for cash. While the long-term descent of Russia is heavily demographic in nature, the best way to weaken Russia is to drive the price of energy down.

  9. “In Vladimir Putin, we have Saddam Hussein with nuclear weapons.”

    Oh please. He’s a KGB agent, are you actually shocked that he’s replaying the old Soviet behavior and invading neighbors? Seriously?

  10. Jon H,

    I am not sure what you are objecting to.

    Both Saddam and Putin have been very effective in replacing the governing institutions of their home country with personal power, while both have been quite effective at alienating their neighbors and former friends.

  11. There are plenty of articles that say Georgia started this in the Russian press, I’ll ignore them.

    I think the AP quote I had does an reasonable job. Recapturing S. Ossetia was long a part of Saakashvili’s plan, and a key to his staying in power.

    Obviously, the AP could be biased, so here is Reuter’s:

    “Tensions exploded on Friday when Georgia tried to take back control of the rebel region of South Ossetia with tanks and rockets, and Russia sent forces to repel the assault. Fighting raged around South Ossetia’s capital, Tskhinvali.”

    How about McClatchy?

    “Russia scrambled its forces after Georgia launched infantry and tank units into South Ossetia aimed at capturing its capital, Tskhinvali, from Russian-backed separatists.”

    How about those America-haters over at Fox News?

    “The scramble by U.S. diplomats came as Georgian troops launched a major military offensive to regain control over South Ossetia. The fighting prompted a furious response from Russia, which vowed retaliation and sent a column of tanks into the region.”

    Of course the “sniper war” portion of the conflict happened, from Aug 1 – Aug 7. There is little coverage of those events (wikipedia has some) but if that is your argument, then you can’t use the date 8/8, but instead 8/1.

    If Russia is behind the events, they must have given orders like “Start a small shooting match, nothing major, and keep it up until 8/8, when the Georgians will invade.”

    Now, has America been Russia’s friend? They demand everyone respect the territorial integrity of Georgia, but couldn’t have cared less, and in fact helped instigate the Kosovar secession. Not to mention the Rose and Orange Revolutions, which knee-jerk America-haters in Russia all attributed to CIA and Soros machinations… machinations against Russia.

    Georgia, in fact, is trying to impose its will on South Ossetians which, if polls I’ve heard are to be believed, overwhelmingly want nothing to do with Georgia, and would rather join Russia (and their fellow Ossetians across the border).

    Forget Georgia and Russia and Oil and America for a moment. Who should decide what happens to South Ossetia, if not the South Ossetians?

  12. Josh SN,

    You repeat your broad claims, while citing only articles that support my contention.

    I thank you for undermining your own case. It solves me the problem. It seems a strange way to spend your time, though.

    Now, has America been Russia’s friend?

    Our, and Europe’s, goal has been to push back Russian influence to the extent possible. We successfully dismembered Yugoslavia after it turned into a Russian client, integrated many countries formerly under Russian influence into the EU-NATO structure, and have both Georgia and Ukraine on the same path.

    I wish this had gone faster [1], but so it goes..

    Forget Georgia and Russia and Oil and America for a moment. Who should decide what happens to South Ossetia, if not the South Ossetians?

    I assume you support an Islamic Republic in Chechnya, as well?

    [1] http://www.tdaxp.com/archive/2006/12/30/roll-back-russia-support-belarus.html

  13. “In Vladimir Putin, we have Saddam Hussein with nuclear weapons”

    Poor analogy, except as a rhetorical device where it is nifty for whipping up the yahoos. Not helpful though in understanding how Putin plays his game.

    Saddam thought himself to be Saladin as well as being a paranoid and occasionally delusional sociopath. Putin is not a nice guy but even his aggressive moves seem to be done with both feet planted firmly upon planet Earth. Done for limited objectives with considerable thought as to potential consequences and to maximize the chances for success.

    Recall what Putin had to go through to have been admitted to the KGB as a young man. They weeded out the unsteady personalities from the get go and to get into the Foreign intel directorate Putin had to be a cut above the average KGB recruit in all respects. Getting into the CIA was a cakewalk in comparison.

  14. Josh SN’s comment included an ad hominem attack, and has been deleted.

    zenpundit,

    Thanks for your comment!

    “In Vladimir Putin, we have Saddam Hussein with nuclear weapons

    Poor analogy, except as a rhetorical device where it is nifty for whipping up the yahoos. Not helpful though in understanding how Putin plays his game.

    The analogy is substantive, neither rhetorical or personal.

    Specifically, I am referring to their common patterns of behavior with respect to politics. Both men persue reckless and warlike foreign policies designed to maximize their income from exporting natural resources. Both men have alienated most of their neighbors through their policies. Both men have been more successful domestically, replacing the institutions of governance in their home countries with more personal mechanisms of control.

    I’m not interested in psychoanalysis, as I don’t think it’s a reliable method of understanding a world leader. As I mentioned in another context, what normal person enters politics?

    It would be interesting to know the criterea the KGB used for hiring, promotion, and retention.

  15. “No idea if Russia recklessly imperialistic. Certainly we may see. As of now, we can only tell that they have reintroduced large-scale conventional warfare as a method of negotiation between states. Very dangerous.”

    It was the Bush Doctrine that officially reintroduced that concept to international relations.

  16. The thing that really sticks out at me is how Georgia has decided to defend its territory? There’s no reason to own all those tanks and artillery pieces if you’re Georgia. They (Along with the Baltic States, Finland, and others bordering potential hostile great powers) should have an Army of small, 6 man cells, armed with the best night vision, shoulder fired anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons, and small arms that money can buy (along with comfortable boots of course).

    Its hard to get a good picture of what’s going on militarily? I used to get Stratfor and now would seem to be the time to have it? But even Statfor doesn’t always know what’s going on. Georgia might need the heavy stuff to fight Chechen guerrillas in their North?

  17. “In Vladimir Putin, we have Saddam Hussein with nuclear weapons” (Dan)

    At least you didn’t say “worse than Hitler.” I guess you’ve shown some restraint?

  18. Seerov,

    Georgia faces both sub-state enemies (the Russian clients), as well as Russia itself. I don’t know enough to comment on the specifics of force structure, but special forces definitely would come in handy now.

    “In Vladimir Putin, we have Saddam Hussein with nuclear weapons” (Dan)

    At least you didn’t say “worse than Hitler.” I guess you’ve shown some restraint?

    The Hitler analogy, besides falling foul of Godwin’s law [1], would be absurd. Among many, many other differences, Hitler was able to enunciate a plausible alternative grand unifying idea, engage in rapid territorial growth of his dominion, free his country from international restrictions, etc.

    A better analogy is Saddam Hussein, a generally incompetent leader on the regional stage who uses war as a tool of diplomacy.

    [1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Godwin%27s_law

  19. “Both men persue reckless and warlike foreign policies designed to maximize their income from exporting natural resources.”

    Reckless? I’d say exceptionally well-calculated. invading Ukraine, that’s reckless.

  20. zenpundit,

    Reckless? I’d say exceptionally well-calculated. invading Ukraine, that’s reckless.

    I’m referring to a pattern of behavior. We are too early to know the outcome of the Georgian campaign.

    Russian actions after 9/11 in Central Asia were the worst of all worlds, allowing the US to operate militarily in the region (and negotiate directly with the local governments) while opposing any US presense at all. Russia thus looks both hostile and incompetent.

    Russian actions in the former Yugoslavia led by stages to the continuing reduction of Serbian bargaining power, and increased weakness for pro-Russian politicians (including jail sentences!) in teh country.

    Russian actions in Ukraine manage to turn two pro-Russian politicians (Viktor Yushchenko and Yulia Tymoshenko) into high-profile Western allies.

    Russian actions in Georgia manage to destabilize a weak and pro-Russian government (headed by Eduard Shevardnadze) into another high-profile western ally. Even the greatest Russian military operation in three decades was unable to restore the status quo ante Putin.

    Russian actions in Belarus managed to transform the sycophantic regime of Alexander Lukashenko into a hostile neighbor, including high-profile energy shut-offs.

    A good parallel for Putin’s reckless incompetence would be if in 2003 the FARC had bloodlessly taken over Colombia, and a US military response to an effort to protect one of 2 remaining pro-US provinces results in the survival of the FARC regime, international condemnation, and the continued non-involvement of the former client leadership.

    Of course, we should be thankful for this [1].

    [1] http://www.tdaxp.com/archive/2006/11/23/give-thanks-for-putin.html

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